Working Less Pays More

You don’t have time to watch this right now:

… because you’re working too much:

The 40-hour workweek is mostly a thing of the past. Ninety-four percent of professional workers put in 50 or more hours, and nearly half work 65 or above. All workers have managed to cut down on our time on the job by 112 hours over the last 40 years, but we’re far behind other countries: The French cut down by 491 hours, the Dutch by 425, and Canadians by 215 in the same time period. Workers in Ireland and the Netherlands are also working less. We’re also increasing our productivity, getting more done in the time we spend at work. It went up by nearly 25 percent between 2000 and 2012. …

Taking some time off actually improves a worker’s productivity at work. A study from Ernst & Young found that every ten hours of vacation time taken by an employee boosted her year-end performance rating by 8 percent and lowered turnover. Former NASA scientists found that people who take vacations experience an 82 percent increase in job performance upon their return, with longer vacations making more of an impact than short ones.

Relatedly, Cohn wants the US to have better work-family policies. Here he addresses the main pushback:

Conservatives in particular complain that requiring paid leave would hurt businesses, because employers must scramble to fill vacant posts—and do so temporarily. But if you talk to actual business leaders, you hear a different, much more nuanced story.

The trend among Fortune 500 companies has been towards offering longer leaves, with more compensation. Google, for instance, recently announced that it was extending paid leave for its employees by several weeks. One study found that the market even rewards such behavior; when companies announce they are extending parental leave, share prices rise.

The reason is that offering workers more leave tends to improve retention. Although the evidence is far from definitive, many studies have shown that, overall, new parents (and, in particular, new mothers) are more likely to return to work if they have the opportunity to take an extended leave for newborns. If companies don’t offer such long breaks—if they insist employees come back too soon—the new parents are more likely to abandon the job altogether and never come back. When workers who would rather work leave their jobs anyway, to take care of children, the companies aren’t the only ones who suffer. The economy does, too.

Zachary Goldfarb asks:

Why hasn’t the president been more aggressive on family leave? He’s enacted other major family-related benefits, such as the expansion of health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and proposed other child-focused policies, including a plan to offer pre-K to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The idea of paid leave, however, hasn’t seriously come up in White House policy discussions, according to a person who has been deeply involved in those talks.

The reason has to do with the substantial cost of such a program, and the difficulty of funding it without raising taxes on the middle class — which would violate a major 2008 campaign promise. Recall that during his first presidential campaign, one of Obama’s big promises was that he would not raise taxes on any household earning less than $250,000 a year. He has tried to hold firm to that pledge, rejecting pressure from liberals who argue that it creates an unnecessary limit on what he can accomplish.